Roche CEO Severin Schwan says producing new antibody test part of busiest time in his career
Roche expects to produce 60 million tests by the end of the month.
Severin Schwan, the CEO of Swiss drugmaker Roche, says employees from across the company are coming together to contribute to meeting the aggressive manufacturing targets the company has promised after receiving emergency Food and Drug Administration approval for its COVID-19 antibody test on Sunday.
"I mean, even in the packaging lines, we have our employees who come from all over the place, who raised their hand and who say ... 'Can I help out in the warehouse?'" Schwan said in an interview with ABC News. "The engagement is -- and the commitment and the passion is -- really enormous. I can't tell you how proud I am of the organization and how they excel during this difficult, unprecedented time."
"And it's perhaps, especially during such times, that you really feel about the difference your work can make," he continued. "I mean, if you see this immediate impact, I mean it's challenging, but I think it's also very motivating."
The CEO said Roche is staying true to its promises and meeting aggressive production targets. Roche will be able to produce 60 million tests by the end of May, with most analysts expecting Roche to produce up to 100 million tests per month by the end of the year.
Schwan said he sees antibody testing as key to opening back up the world and global economies. The test looks for antibodies in a person's blood that have been raised to fight off the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibody testing shows people who have already been exposed to the virus -- even if they were asymptomatic -- and therefore may have some immunity to it. Testing also helps world health organizations and the scientific community by showing how widely the disease has spread.
"I think it is an important step to normalize and get back to work," Schwan said. "Antibody tests do allow us two things. On the one hand, we can much better monitor how the pandemic is evolving -- better than new infections. ... It is important from a public health point of view, but it is also important for each of us from an individual point of view to have certainty."
Schwan said he was surprised the company got emergency authorization so fast, but also that these were "unique" times.
"The turnaround time was really, really fast. I mean, normally it would take months, if not years, until you would get such an approval," he told ABC News. "In a way, it's extraordinary; in another way, I was not surprised. ... This way of working, collaborating with peers and working in real time with government organizations ... is unique."
The company says its test is very sensitive -- 99.81% -- meaning results are highly likely to be accurate, with very few false positives. Right now, it is the most accurate product on the market.
The tests are run on a high-volume instrument found in most labs and some hospitals around the world. It can produce a single result in 18 minutes and as many as 300 results in an hour, the company said in a statement Sunday after receiving emergency authorization from the FDA.
Many of the earliest versions of antibody tests came from smaller and newer companies and officials had questioned their accuracy. Now, bigger companies with deep scientific benches are releasing their own versions. The U.S. company Abbott Laboratories has a similar test to Roche's. The FDA has granted emergency use approval to about a dozen of these tests.
The FDA has relaxed its normal rules for all companies. Other companies, such as Abbott, also received a similarly fast authorization for their antibody tests.
Sony Salzman from ABC News' Medical Unit contributed to this report.
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